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EPA appointee is hopeful about Great Lakes — despite challenges

When the topic is water — freshwater, that is — Cameron Davis' words flow with clarity and passion.

"The Great Lakes are finite, fragile and globally critical."

In his role as senior adviser to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Davis is charged with helping to coordinate the nation's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a multiagency plan to restore and protect the largest bodies of freshwater in the world. The initiative was launched with $475 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2010.

Even before his federal appointment in June 2009, his colleagues say, Davis was known as "Mr. Great Lakes" because of the ways in which he championed the value of the five lakes. For 23 years he worked in the region as a volunteer, litigator, law professor and, most recently, for 11 years as president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly known as the Lake Michigan Federation), the oldest Great Lakes' citizen organization.

Davis' leadership is often cited as a major factor in passage of the Great Lakes Legacy Act in 2002 and its two-year reauthorization in 2008. The act authorizes $54 million of federal funds annually to clean up contaminated sediment in the bottom of rivers and harbors that feed into the lakes.

The public funds funneled through the Legacy Act and GLRI are improving the health of the Great Lakes, Davis says.

"We're no longer nibbling around the edges," he said. "We are now proactively attacking problems as we see them."

Davis uses both hands to name the many challenges currently facing the Great Lakes including:

  • Polluted runoff water from urban, suburban and agricultural sources.
  • Invasive, non-native species, such as Asian carp, zebra mussels and others.
  • Degraded wetlands.

The water in the five lakes — Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior — is especially valuable to the 40 million U.S. and Canadian residents who use it to meet basic daily needs. The Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of the U.S. supply of fresh surface water, provide water for drinking, shipping, commercial fishing, hydroelectricity, bathing and recreation — making them a huge national asset. They also are globally significant because they contain 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water, Davis says.

"In terms of the planet, there are very few places like the Great Lakes," he said. "Over time we are going to see people from around the world really marveling at just how important they [the lakes] are in terms of sustaining life."

Many departments and agencies — such as the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies and Canada's federal and two provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec — are working together to protect and restore the Great Lakes, Davis says.

These days, one shared goal is keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The large, non-native fish eat a lot and reproduce rapidly. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, grow to more than 4 feet in length, and are capable of dramatically disrupting the food chain that supports the Lakes' native fish. An abundance of Asian carp in the lakes likely would harm the region's $7 billion regional fishing industry, Davis says. This also could reduce dramatically the Midwest's water-based sports and recreation industry.

In response, Mott provided a $500,000 grant to the Great Lakes Commission in August to lead a binational team that will investigate the best economic and environmental solutions for preventing the fish from swimming into the Great Lakes via Chicago's canals and further disrupting the delicate ecosystem balance.

Like others, Davis is concerned about Asian carp. Yet, his many years spent caring for the Great Lakes has given him hope, so he looks beyond today's horizon.

"I can tell you one great thing about this region," he said. "We know how to work together. I'm convinced if we want to beat the carp back, our greatest weapon is to work together as a region."

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

 

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